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What are the falling action and exposition in "To Build a Fire"?

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brokenheart | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted March 10, 2010 at 4:52 AM via web

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What are the falling action and exposition in "To Build a Fire"?

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bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted March 10, 2010 at 8:41 AM (Answer #1)

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I would consider the falling action of Jack London's classic short story, "To Build a Fire," to be the man's resignation of death, when he realizes that there will be no fire--and no salvation. Despite his final attempt to save himself by running back to camp, he knew he "lacked the endurance" to do so. When he finally fell, he accepted his resignation of death and attempted to meet it with dignity. When death came, it was only after what seemed to be "the most comfortable and satisfying sleep he had ever known."

The first bit of exposition in the story comes in the third paragraph, when we find that the unnamed man is a "chechaquo," a newcomer to the area. Further exposition includes the narrator's references to the man from Sulphur Creek, who had earlier warned him about the dangers of travelling alone in such extreme temperatures.

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Doug Stuva | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted March 10, 2010 at 8:59 AM (Answer #2)

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In Jack London's "To Build a Fire," the speaker uses exposition to describe the setting and prepare the reader for what's to come. 

The first three paragraphs of the story certainly serve as exposition.  The reader learns where the character is (the Yukon, on the Yukon trail); the weather (clear day without any sun and bitter cold); what the man is doing (traveling on foot), etc. 

Setting also includes what characters know in a story, and we get an important bit of exposition about what this character knows or doesn't know.  I quote from paragraph three:

But...the tremendous cold...made no impression on the man.  It was not because he was long used to it.  He was a newcomer....The trouble with him was that he was without imagination.  He was quick and alert in the things of life, but only in the things, and not in the significances.  Fifty degrees below zero meant eighty-odd degrees of frost.  Such fact impressed him as being cold and uncomfortable, and that was all.  It did not lead him to meditate upon his frailty as a creature of temperature, and upon man's frailty in general,...

This exposition prepares the reader for the character's eventual trouble.

The falling action of the story occurs in the last two or three paragraphs of the story, once the man has surrendered.  By then, he knows he's going to freeze one way or another, so he might as well behave with dignity.  He thinks of the old-timer who had warned him, and soon freezes to death.  The dog waits as long as he can, then trots off toward the next camp.

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